An Arts Collaboration for Jazz and Poetry Appreciation Month


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One of the first events I attended for the City of Writers Poetry Festival was a Community Poetry event at St. Pete’s Black Crow Coffee hosted by Denzel Johnson-Green that featured poetry writing and improvisational drums and piano.

Writing to the tempo and rhythm of musical instruments, I began to understand that jazz and poetry have much more in common than a shared appreciation month in April.

As Poetry Appreciation Month launched with music for me, I could not wait to cap it off and attend JAM & PAM – a celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month and Poetry Appreciation Month presented by the Al Downing Tampa Bay Jazz Association on the last weekend of April.

Founded in 1989, the Al Downing Tampa Bay Jazz Association has been instrumental in promoting jazz appreciation and education throughout the Tampa Bay area. Named after the esteemed jazz pianist Al Downing, the association honors his legacy by preserving the rich tradition of jazz music and providing opportunities for emerging artists to showcase their talents.

For the second year, JAM & PAM demonstrates the association’s commitment to celebrating the collaboration of poetry and jazz in an evening of incredible performances.

This event brought together The Zach Bartholomew Quartet and St. Petersburg’s Poet Laureate Gloria Muñoz at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg.

St Pete Poet Laureate Gloria Muñoz and jazz pianist and composer Zach Bartholomew

Before the event, I had the opportunity of speaking with Julie Borik, the Marketing Chair of the association, about the connections between jazz and poetry. We talked about how these art forms are similar in terms of their focus on rhythm, improvisation and creativity. She emphasized that JAM & PAM offers an opportunity to create a new kind of energy and excitement by uniting music and poetry lovers together under one roof.

The shared performance between these artists only highlighted this connection as they first performed separately and then collaborated together. Gloria Múnoz’s poetry was beautiful – “We are St. Pete, Somos St. Pete…. Where a daughter of immigrants can be your Poet Laureate.”

Zach Bartholomew performed incredible compositions, sharing the exigency of each one before starting – highlighting inspiration from sunset Florida drives to an ode to his cat Oliver.

The Zach Bartholomew Quartet

Each was amazing in their own right, but when they collaborated, I was blown away. Gloria Muñoz read a villanelle about a roller rink as the Zach Bartholomew Quartet improvised a set behind her. The repetition with the beat of music provided an immersive experience into the arts like no other. I felt like I was in the roller rink, I was in the music, and the encounter was unforgettable.

For residents of St. Petersburg, Poetry Appreciation Month holds a special significance as the City of Writers Poetry Festival holds events throughout the month. In collaboration with Eckerd College, The Woodson African American Museum of Florida, The Dalí Museum, St. Pete Youth Farm, Tombolo Books and more, there are poetry readings and workshops throughout the city. These events celebrate established authors and emerging poets alike, facilitating discussions on craft and more.

The festival ended on Tuesday, April 30 with an event entitled Youth & Community Poetry Reading at the St. Pete Youth Farm hosted by Miesha and Keesha Brundridge. There was a live saxophone player and the final reading was rap performed by an emerging teen artist. I couldn’t untangle music from my poetry appreciation and I was the better for it.

Gloria Muñoz

There was so much community at these events. In our conversation, Borik underscored the importance of community inherent in JAM & PAM and the other festival events saying, “It’s a healing thing to be able to experience the joy of art and then enjoy it with other people. It brings people together in a new way.”

While the month of April is over now, there are still plenty of opportunities to engage with jazz and poetry in the year to come!

The Al Downing Tampa Bay Jazz Association offers many education programs, including scholarships and performance opportunities. Borik encourages young musicians to participate in the Monday Night Jazz Jam at The Hangar Restaurant in St. Pete’s Albert Whitted Airport, where you can play alongside the house band in a supportive and encouraging environment.

Zach Bartholomew will also be back on July 26 at the Palladium celebrating the release of his new album Balancing Act. You can find ticket information here.

For poetry, the free Sit a Spell Conversation X Pa’lante Series: Black Voices in the Humanities hosted by the Woodson African American Museum presents Dr. Vincent Adejumo in conversation with Silk Jazmyne Hindus on May 8 at 6:30 pm.

The St. Pete Youth Farm is holding Healing Through Words Workshops hosted by local writers on two Mondays of each month for the rest of the year. For more information check out their Instagram @stpeteyouthfarm.

There is a place for everyone in the arts scene in St. Pete, from seasoned enthusiasts to jazz musicians to poets and curious newcomers.

As President Alvinette Downing McCleave of the Al Downing Tampa Bay Jazz Association closed the JAM & PAM saying, “St. Pete knows how to celebrate jazz and poetry!”



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